Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Remembering Comfort Women

All sides of the World Wars committed many atrocities. However, this month, a statue honoring women's plight as sex slaves during one of the largest cases of sex trafficking is in danger of being removed.

Crimes against women during the World Wars must not be forgotten or spoke of lightly. "Comfort women" were individuals forced into prostitution corps by the Japanese throughout their occupied-territories. Young women were trafficked from their homes and established in sex work at "comfort stations" to serve the Japanese Armed Forces. Beyond the euphemism, these women were sex slaves. 
Korean comfort women in Myitkyina Burma, August 1944
The idea behind comfort stations was to limit civilian rape by soldiers, prevent the spread of venereal diseases, and control of "the simmering discontentment of the soldiers could explode into a riot and revolt. That is why it provided women." 

The trafficking occurred in Japanese occupied spaces by tricking women with a false promise of work to coercion. However, the comfort stations did not prevent men from seeking women in the surrounding communities during campaigns. Women were raped as part of the Three Alls Policy also by kidnapping and raping civilians.

The Japanese government's cabinet secretary apologized in 1993. Many women did not accept the apology, however, in 2007, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe unequivocal denied that the country had forced foreign women into sex slavery during World War II. Some of these women contracted venereal diseases, suffer from infertility, and numerous other physical and mental after effects: Physical pain kept the women continuously taking medication, causing a problem of drug addiction. Furthermore, the women had to lead difficult lives due to psychological trauma like fear of disadvantage and social stigma, a sense of defeat, depression, and insomnia. As they were unable to become actively involved in social life and were not incorporated into the family system owing to the fact that they were comfort women, the women victims were cornered into a vicious cycle of poverty. Comfort women and their families demand full compensation and a sincere apology.

Watch the video below to learn more of the struggle of Korean survivors of Japan's military sexual slavery system for redress, peace, and reconciliation.

Over in America, forums and groups like the Korean-American Forum of California formed as national grassroots effort to continue to put pressure of the government of Japan and to raise public awareness regarding women’s rights not to be violated during wartimes. City of Glendale unveiled the Comfort Women Statue on July 30, 2013. This is the first installation of such a statue outside of Korea.

Japanese delegation requests removal, visits controversial Comfort Women statue
However opponents to the statue want to erase the struggle of comfort women and, in turn, evade the blame of atrocities committed by Japan and continued to be perpetuated in other cases of sex trafficking around the world. The "comfort woman" of Glendale not only commemorates the women interned by Japan, but sparks conversation with children. "Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it," George Santayana, aptly describes how we should approach education and outreach regarding crimes committed in the past and those today.

There is currently petitions wishing to protect the Peace Monument in Glendale Central Library. 

Related Resources and References:

Comfort Women Used to Prevent Military Revolt During War:

Military Prostitution and the U.S. Military in Asia:

The Politics of Apology for Japan’s ‘Comfort Women’:

2 lawmakers draw fire over 'comfort woman' statue:

‘Comfort Women’ Statue In Glendale Sits At Center Of New Controversy:

Comfort Women: A Lifetime of Blood and Tears:


Poppy Lee said...

thank you for sharing this

deborah poh said...

Wow, another great article! I appreciate the depth of thought and the research that goes into your posts! As I've mentioned previously, I'm a History major so I've definitely heard about "comfort women" before. However, to hear about the devastating after effects of the practice is so sad to hear and really makes me sympathize with those women, as well as be grateful for how protected most women in our society are today (hopefully). As you said, those who do not understand or know their history will be repeat the worst aspects of it-- thanks for putting it out there and making other aware of this sad chapter in our world history!

P.S. I have followed you on GFC, hope you follow back if you haven't already!

xx Debbie